Never Work with Kids or Animals

There’s an old adage in Hollywood that says, “Never work with kids or animals.”

Most people have never tried to stage a musical with kids (or animals), so few can comprehend how challenging it is, but what we pulled off with our “Newsies Against the World” musical was really a minor miracle.  Here are a few details you may not have noticed:

There weren’t any adults back stage. The kids did everything on their own. Logan was running the lightboard, a system which can boggle the minds of adults. She had to know which spotlights to bring up and when to dim them, and she handled it all perfectly. Addison was running the music. It may seem simple to merely push play and pause and adjust the volume during the spoken lines, but when she was absent from class one day and someone else tried to do it, it made a mess of our practice. You also might not have noticed that Addison used her singing voice to help keep the actors on stage in sync. Her work was critical to the success of the show. Accolades need to be given to Courtney, too. She was the dance captain and choreographer for the “Sidewalks of New York” song.  That a quiet fifth grader could put something like that together is amazing—especially given that her male classmates don’t like to dance and that my class can often be inattentive and sassy. No wonder “Sidewalks” is my favorite part of the show.

Set changes have to be coordinated and practiced. Just getting Luke’s soap box on and off the stage without a fuss was a critical detail. In addition to their acting duties, Owen and Jaylee maneuvered the soap box, the circulation window, and the “alley” flawlessly. You barely noticed them! They were almost professional in their work. Nor did you notice our Newsie extras, such as Lui, DeAna, Molly, and Nico, getting bundles of papers off stage and out of the way. Props in general can be a handful, but imagine how hard it would be to push around a twelve foot trolley car? Devin’s scene with our cardboard trolley was difficult to create, yet he handled it masterfully, ringing the bell, delivering his lines, and reaching for his change all while steering the thing through a narrow exit off stage. Impressive!

Entering and exiting the stage is frequently problematic for young actors. Kids usually tend to stumble in and out, but our Newsies disappeared like ninjas.  How on earth did Annie get from singing and dancing during “Ta Ra Ra” to standing at the west side musicless room door by the end of the scene? If you watch carefully during the video of the show, you’ll see Annie, Lilly, Haydn, and others slip off stage in ways that allowed the audience to instead focus on the incoming action.

Missed cues, misspoken lines, and other surprises can derail a play in a hurry. While the audience may have noticed two such moments, there were a dozen others to which the kids were able to adapt.  One that you probably did notice happened when one student apparently got a case of “stage fright” and didn’t come out. Jaylee and Maryfer reacted calmly, smoothly proceeding in an effort to cover up the other student’s error.   

Our Newsies script was geared for older students. It originally appeared in an issue of Scope magazine, Scholastic’s classroom language arts magazine for middle schoolers. I complicated it that much more by adapting it as a musical, so it’s really quite remarkable a group of fifth graders was able to do so well with it. The amount of memorization alone was tremendous! Luke, Riley, Jenny, Annie, Tyler, Lilly, Valerie, and Haydn all had lengthy and complex lines to learn.  Bringing personality to those lines was even tougher. Luke’s enthusiastic rendition of Sully and Will’s spirited portrayal of Hearst set a high standard for the others to follow. And Annie, well, I handed her a challenge that would flummox most fifth graders: that of singing a spotlighted solo a mere five feet from the audience. You can bet it took uncommon bravery, grit, and determination to do that!

And before you go thinking the kids were a little off key once in awhile, please remember that D6 doesn’t have much of a music program these days. These students only get six or seven class sessions of music per year, and most of that isn’t dedicated to learning how to sing. Their growth this trimester has been exceptional. Oh, if you had heard the kids sing “Hot Times” back in February! Had you heard them sing “When You’re Smilin’” even just a couple weeks ago—you might have gone running from the room! Their performance is even more impressive given that, due to state testing, we had only limited access to the music room and stage.

Whoever said, “Never work with kids or animals,” must not have ever had the thrill of seeing something like this come together. When you look at all the little details, you realize the kids created something pretty darn special. It’ll certainly go down as one of the highlights of my career.

Important Dates–Revised!

May 6 — Newsies full performance, 6:30, CPE (need kids at 6:00)
May 7 — The “After Party” Big breakfast in class, PJs, and electronics
May 9 — Crater Lake trip (8 am – 5 pm)
May 24 — DARE 5th Grade Graduation (12:45 p.m.) (This is a date change!)
May 31 — DARE Day (Kids only! 9-1:30)
June 6 & 7 — Outdoor Ed Coast Trip
June 12 — Roadrunner Day
June 13 Baby Picture Show 8:45 a.m.; last day of school

Baby Pics

It’s time to send in those baby pictures for our annual Year-in-Review and 5th Grade Baby Picture Program. Select a photo of your 5th grader from when he or she was an infant (between 9 months and 3 years are most popular; close ups with vibrant colors work best). You can scan the photo yourself (600 or better resolution) and simply e-mail it to mack.lewis@district6.org. Or, use a sticky note to put the child’s first and last name on the back. Drop it by the school or have your child deliver it to Mr. Lewis. We’ll be making digital scans of each photo and then returning them on the day of the show in June. IWe need all photos by April 30th at the latest. For more info click here, but if you have any questions, e-mail Mr. Lewis at mack.lewis@district6.org.

Newsies Music (updated)

Ta Ra Ra Boom De Ay

The Sidewalks of New York

East side, West side,
All around the town,
The tots sang ‘Ring-a-Rosie’,
Brooklyn Bridge is falling down!
Boys and girls together,
Me and Mamie O’Rorke,
Tripped the light fantastic
On the sidewalks of New York.

I Ain’t Got Nobody

Oh I ain’t got nobody
Oh nobody cares for me
I’m so sad and lonely
Won’t somebody please take a chance on me?

When Your’e Smiling

Oh when you smilin’, when you smilin
The whole world smiles with you.
Yes when you laughin’ oh when you laughin’
The sun comes shinin through.

But when you cryin’, you bring on the rain
So stop your sighin. Be happy again
Keep on smilin, keep on smilin, 
And the world will smile with you

Hot Times in the Old Town

When you hear all the bells go ding a ling
All join ’round and sweetly you must sing
And when the verse is through in the chorus all join in
There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight. My baby

Please oh please, oh do not let me fall,
You’re all mine and I love you best of all,
And you must be my pal, or I’ll have no pal at all,
There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight.

Spring Conference Times Now Available

To schedule a spring conference, click on the “Spring Conferences.” tab (above). These conferences work somewhat differently than those in the fall: rather than full, sit-down meetings, students “exhibit” their portfolios (this is different than the school-wide Exhibition Night on April 26th). To view the portfolio, receive the report card/progress report, and chat briefly about your child, you can simply “drop in” during either of the two open sessions. However, if you feel a full traditional conference is necessary, you may schedule a specific time by following the directions on the “Spring Conferences” page.

Newsie On Strike Musical

For this year’s Exhibition, Room 15 kids have opted to produce a musical based on the 1899 New York City newsboy strike (similar to but not the same as Disney’s “Newsies”). Because Exhibition is meant to involve all students in a significant collaborative project, all Room 15 kids will be expected to participate in the musical. Some students will be acting, others will be working on set design and prop construction, as stage hands, or in other support roles.

Tryouts for speaking roles will be held on the afternoon of Wednesday, Feb. 6th. Interested students, regardless of the role they’re pursuing, need to memorize this tryout script. Students will be able to identify desired roles when trying out.

All students, regardless of duties, will be challenged to develop a costume—and they’ll need parent help to do it.  Though Exhibition isn’t until late April, now is the time to get started. We’d like to see costumes completed by Spring Break. These pictures show what newsie “street kids” looked like. Note that a few students will be cast in minor adult roles. They’ll need to develop a costume based on the stylish folks in the picture at right.

Exhibition is quite possibly the most significant focal point of our entire school year. In addition to the musical itself, students will be documenting what they learn and why it’s important. Staging a quality musical is an exceptionally complicated challenge. It’ll only come off if all our students put forth their absolute best effort and families lend their maximum support. However, school musicals are also tremendously rewarding, the kind of thing that students remember and take pride in forever. Thank you in advance for your support!

This Week’s Super Sentences

Kids have completed their Super Sentence test, which appear below. This week’s structure is compound predicate. That means the sentence must have a single subject (the person or thing the sentence is about) who performs two or more actions. Click on the comments to see the kids’ work.

CPETV #17: The Coast Trip!

Finally, after all this time, we finally have a new episode! This one covers our Oregon Coast Outdoor Ed Excursion from June 2018. The Coast Trip is always hectic and the kids are busy from start to finish, but our hosts, Daisy and Jocelyn, managed to write their host script on the bus as we traveled and then squeezed in the host segments whenever we had a spare ten minutes–which wasn’t often. Pretty impressive. Enjoy!